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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 4889

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (2:24 PM) —My question without notice is to Senator Evans representing the Prime Minister. After the emissions trading scheme legislation failed to pass the Senate earlier today, I immediately wrote to the Prime Minister recommending further negotiations and Senator Milne wrote to her counterpart, the Minister for Climate Change and Water. I ask the Prime Minister’s representative in the Senate: has the Prime Minister flagged an intention to proceed with negotiations with the Greens on legislation which the minister says will return to the parliament before the end of this year, and what is the position of the Prime Minister, as the negotiator in chief, in forwarding this matter and in responding to that letter from me?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I do not think Senator Brown will be surprised to know that, if he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister a couple of hours ago, I have not been briefed on the Prime Minister’s response to that. In fact, I suspect the Prime Minister has not seen it yet. We run very efficient communication links, but in terms of specifically responding to the letter, obviously I cannot help you, Senator Brown.

What is clear is that this government is committed to trying to ensure that we get CPRS legislation through this parliament. We think it is vital for the environment, vital for the world and vital for this nation. What we have tried to do is bring that legislation into this parliament and gain support to have it passed. We have only 32 senators here. We know we are going to need the support of others to get it passed. But we have gone through a long process of consultation and a long process of producing discussion papers and a white paper in order to get debate on these issues. Unfortunately, the opposition are in such disarray that they have been unable to respond. You, Senator Brown, have been a critic of the scheme and have decided to vote against it, which of course is your right.

Yes, we do remain committed to seeking to have that legislation passed. We do remain open to negotiations and input from all Australians and all political parties, but we are absolutely committed to getting that legislation carried by this parliament as soon as possible. We think it is important. We undertook to the Australian people to do so. The Liberal-National opposition also did that, but they walked away from that commitment. We hope they reconsider their position and go down the same path that John Howard committed them to and support the legislation that we have introduced in the parliament.

Senator BOB BROWN —I thank the minister for his response and I ask a supplementary question. The minister has indicated that the legislation will be brought back into the Senate. I have been asked questions by the media and they are of this nature. What is the government’s priority? Is it to have that legislation, unchanged, brought before the Senate and tested again or is its priority to get legislation through the parliament which is going to get on with the job of tackling climate change? I ask the minister: has the Prime Minister indicated whether he intends that the government will remain to have the lowest targets of the government, coalition and Greens or is the government prepared to look at improving the targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2020 as part of the process of getting a real package of legislation tackling climate change through the Senate and through the parliament before Christmas?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank Senator Brown for the question. I do not for one minute accept that we have got the lowest targets because, quite frankly, the opposition’s proposals could be described as a magic pudding: they are not at all believable; they are not at all serious. What I can say to Senator Brown is that we have consistently said that we wanted to get the legislation passed before Copenhagen. That has been our position for a long time. It was a position the opposition used to support; they do not any longer. We actually think it is important that Australia pass this legislation, that it makes its contribution to carbon pollution reduction, and we would urge the parliament to support it. While the opposition might be fixated on double dissolutions et cetera, we think it is important legislation, we think it is necessary and we urge the parliament to carry it. (Time expired)

Senator BOB BROWN —Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. The Oxford Economics report released by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation on 10 August indicates a $38 billion hit on the Great Barrier Reef and associated economies if climate change proceeds without a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. I ask: was this matter of a $38 billion hit on the Great Barrier Reef, which includes $18 billion in the Cairns region, discussed in the caucus deliberations of the government this week or have you had any indication from the Prime Minister that he has taken into account this very serious and damning report from these very esteemed economic analysts?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —The first thing is to reassure you, Senator Brown, I do not leak from the caucus—never have, never will—so I cannot help you on that matter. The second thing to say is that during the parliamentary break both Senator Minchin and I had a good look at the Great Barrier Reef—we kept bumping into each other while we were having a look at it—and I think we have got two converts, if we needed it, to the fact that it is one of the major environmental assets of this country and a fantastic reef that needs to be protected. It absolutely needs to be protected. That is why we say the Great Barrier Reef and other natural sites like that are at risk if we do nothing. The cost of doing nothing is very high, and the condition of the Great Barrier Reef is one of those costs. That is why we have brought legislation before this parliament to say: ‘Let’s start reducing carbon pollution. Let’s make a start. Let this parliament show some leadership.’ That is what we urge you to do: support us in passing the legislation. (Time expired)